The Legacy Film: Nostalgia and today’s franchise cinema


You might have seen this before It’s an old franchise. One you or your parents grew up with, and it’s time for not so much a new sequel as a revival A once dormant series suddenly reenters popular culture with new faces and old faces. It’s a huge pop culture moment. As I said, you might have seen this before It’s the legacy film Journalist Matt Singer first wrote about this in 2015 and he gave it a name But the story begins all the way back with Star Trek generations in 1994 – one of the first major attempts to hand over a film franchise from one set of well-loved characters to the next generation Today as a model for bringing back popular franchises, the legacy film is everywhere Hollywood knows it’s on to a good thing But there’s more to the legacy film than just making money The legacy film not only revives a franchise but actually stages an intergenerational transference between Older nostalgic fans and young newcomers wondering what all the fuss is about Parents who for example loved Star Wars have always passed it on to their children But today the films themselves do it, too. [You might need this] There’s more to the legacy film than you might think Here’s how it works rule number one rediscover the legacy character We know who this is. They were the hero of the original series, the one we all loved and idolized as kids after the credits rolled on the old franchise, they walked off into the sunset and [You’re Han Solo!] [I used to be] [I don’t do that stuff no more] [Throws lightsaber with attitude] They went into retirement and sometimes their actors did too. I The character doesn’t really Interest me We’re allowed to see how the legacy character has aged. [I know what you’re gonna say] [Hey old man] [Look how old you’ve become] [Is it the same now as then?] [Leia: I changed my hair] [Luke: It’s nice that way] They mark the passing of time both for the audience members [Wallace: All these years you looked back on that day drunk on the memory of its perfection] and for the narrative world [Stanforth: We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away] Their retirement – their cynicism – gives the plot something to do Rule number two: meet the successor character Maybe we know this actor, too Maybe they’re a star or maybe a new face, but they’re here and they’re ready to lead the franchise They can do the big action scenes that might be a bit embarrassing otherwise and most importantly they’re here to help the legacy character find purpose again. [Picard: Come back with me] [Picard: Help me stop Soren, and make a difference again] [Rey: I need someone to show me my place in all this] With them we get to see the future of the franchise But not yet rule number three Revisit and sometimes revise the narrative concerns of the original film [Spock Prime: Space. The Final Frontier.] A key part of the legacy film is reminding us why we like the original in the first place This usually means the plot rarely strays far from the familiar. [Dude who has seen A New Hope: It’s another Death Star] [Goldblum: That is definitely bigger than the last one] But with the new relationship of the legacy and the successor we can see old plot ideas through new eyes [Griswald: You got a dream to take your family to Walley world [Griswald: Never let that go] [Han Solo: That’s not how the force works!] Rule number four: Create the handover moment Today franchises outgrow their actors. Plus they might not like the job anyway [Harrison Ford swears] So the dramatic heart of the legacy film lies in the handing off of the franchise from the legacy to the successors Sometimes this is literalized Sometimes the legacy just needs to learn to respect the successors [Donnie: I’m gonna knock that son of a bitch down] [Rocky: I know you are. You know, why because you are Creed, and I love you kid] :'( Rule number five: The legacy character must fade away If transferal was the dramatic heart of the legacy film then withering is its emotional one With hero status passed on and mentorship completed There’s often not much left to do for these legacy characters except give us the incredible gut punch of moving on The death of these legacy characters is the dramatic heart of these films S P O I L E R S (sorry) It also creates pop culture moments The stuff we still talk about years after these films have left cinemas But there’s more to the legacy film than just nostalgia On one hand, they actually challenge traditional blockbuster logic What happens after you win? What comes after the predictable three-act structure? These are films that for whatever financial reasons are thematically interested in time, [Soren: Aren’t you beginning to feel time gaining on you? [Rocky: Time, you know, takes everybody out, it’s undefeated] [Hedlund: Long time] [The Dude: You have no idea] They’re interested in legacy [Luke: The legacy of the Jedi is failure. Hypocrisy. Hubris.] [Rey: That’s not true.] they’re filled with characters looking back on the past and questioning whether they did the right thing whether it was all really worth it [Goldblum: What I mean is that in the last century we amassed] [Goldblum: landmark technological power] [Goldblum: and we’ve consistently proven ourselves incapable of handling that power And today, in a world where the future seems as uncertain as it ever has when older generations are stepping back and looking at the kind of world that they’re leaving for their kids [Harrison Ford: We are facing what is quickly becoming] [Harrison Ford: the greatest moral crisis of our time [Harrison Ford: that those least responsible will bear the greatest costs] [Goldblum: I’m talking about man-made cataclysmic change Or even worse where the youngest members of society are being asked to fight for the future of our planet [Scarlett Covell: I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren have the same beautiful earth that we have now] [Greta Thunberg: The one thing we need more than hope is action] [Greta Thunberg: Because once we start to act] [Greta Thunberg: Hope] [Greta Thunberg: is everywhere] The legacy film feels like the right kind of blockbuster for today So the video that you’ve just watched is an extract of a book that I’ve written it’s called ‘Star Wars After Lucas’ and it’s about how Disney and Lucasfilm used techniques like The Legacy Film to revive Star Wars as a franchise for a new generation after it was sold to them in 2012 The book’s out in March 2019, and you can order it at this link

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